Articles by Ratzo Harris
Stan Kenton, whose centenary was yesterday, was on the vanguard of the wash of “experimental” music produced after the Second World War, but has slid into relative obscurity only because of an affected disdain towards so-called “middlebrow” culture in the critical dialectic.
I can only remember two times, the West Coast premiere of Pauline Oliveros’s To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation and a performance of Donald Erb’s The Seventh Trumpet, where an orchestra I was in performed an “original” composition. This isn’t to say that orchestras never play new music, just that their ratio of new compositions to “flagwavers” was more than reverse that of jazz musicians. I find something rewarding in playing standard material though.
That big bands didn’t die out after the demise of the swing era in 1946 is no news to the thousands of musicians who played in studio orchestras and rehearsal bands around the world throughout the 1960-’80s. If anything, big bands became more institutionalized in American culture after the end of the so-called “swing era”: instrumentation became codified and a standardized big-band texture became the sound and feel of American music.
I couldn’t believe how much sound Paul Motian got from the tiny set he used, but it was really hard to watch him. Sometimes I thought he was going to miss whatever drum or cymbal he was aiming at. Actually, I couldn’t tell what he was aiming at because his arms would float around until the very last instant that he decided what he was going to play.
This was a hard week in terms of reading for the Big Band class I’ve been auditing at Rutgers University. Reading Stanley Crouch carving Miles Davis a new embouchure in “Play the Right Thing” made me want to start over as a fireman or a draftsman or a secret agent or a bounty hunter or anything that would keep me from having to read that.
I remember spending a lot of time practicing when I was younger. First it was technical exercises, then, after I struck out on my own, I worked on things that were pertinent to work. Now that I’m pretty familiar with the instrument, I practice a lot less, probably less than is good. I still get the bass out when I get new music to work on that’s difficult, but that’s rarer these days.
Denman invited me to go along with him to see Mark Dresser at New York University. I didn’t know Mark was in town and I soon found out that he wasn’t. He was playing via Internet2 in a concert called “Inspiraling: Telematic Jazz Explorations” with musicians at the NYU Steinhardt School Music Technology and Music Composition.
On Wednesday night, the Gully Low Jazz Band dedicated their performance at Birdland Jazz Club to author, critic, and archivist Dan Morgenstern, in honor of his 82nd birthday. Morgenstern has been writing about jazz since 1958, served as editor for three major publications, and for many years has served as the director of Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies.
The decade between the middle of the 1950s and 1960s saw a dramatic change in how the cutting edge of the jazz community approached making music; there was a gradual, but marked shift from relying on formal structures for improvisational unity to more “free” situations where individual performers could perform the music as they saw fit.
Usually, when I hear concerts of free improvisations, I sense that there’s an initial period of “group-grope,” where the performers are settling into what they’re going to do. This wasn’t the case with Mat Maneri, Ed Schuller, and Randy Peterson at The Stone on Monday. While it was clear that they were freely improvising, they were so “in tune” with each other that their improvisations were examples of musical perfection.